"Sheesh!" Frankie Foster wiped her brow with one arm, rivulets of sweat drenching her cheeks. "This is not proper April weather! I mean c'mon, we just celebrated Easter in mittens and scarves last week! Now it's like 108 degrees out! Who do I have to complain at to get some consistency around here?"
From the otherwise empty garden fringing her grandmother's boarding house, there came no reply.
"I'm waiting!" the redhead fumed.
No voice on the breeze. And none of the bushes she was pruning chose that moment to erupt into flames and answer all those unanswerable questions.
"Fine!" Foster's resident jack-of-all-trades snapped, tearing off her work gloves and flinging them into the gardening wheelbarrow. "You don't want to behave like the season we've come to expect? Be my guest! Because nowadays," and she picked herself up from the dirt, dusting her bare knees in perfunctory fashion, "we humans aren't at the mercy of the elements anymore! In the past 100 years, we've cooked up some pretty nifty inventions. First and foremost, air conditioning!"
She coughed suddenly, finding her throat to be intensely parched by all the ranting.
"And running in close second to that," the twenty-something caretaker groused as she made her way back into the house, "refrigeration!"
Stepping from the great outdoors into Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends meant more than just encountering recycled cool air. It was a veritable cavalcade of childish creativity come to life. Frankie sidestepped bizarre creatures with multiple limbs playing games and discussing the weather. Weirdly colored composite beings fluttered through the air, some bearing only a tell-tale resemblance to recognizable Earth life. This was a kindergartener's dream come true, multiplied about a thousand times over. Having grown up among all this whimsy, she found herself undeterred by anything out of the ordinary.
However, the sight of spilled food, stained carpets and scuffed balustrades, while perfectly normal in comparison, certainly did catch her attention. More work for later, Frankie thought morosely as she made her way to the kitchen.
Passing through the appropriate archway among hundreds, the young woman found herself confronted by a pair of long red legs whose limit stretched well above even her eye level. Standing at the table with his back turned, Wilt whipped his head about at her entry, that gigantic grin permanently chiseled into his features. His one good eye stared unblinkingly at her.
"Hey Frankie!" 'Stretch Armlong,' as Bloo liked to call him, gave her a nod in greeting, while continuing to busy himself at the kitchen table.
"Afternoon, Wilt." His long-standing housemate smiled tiredly. "Don't mind me, I just came in for something cool to drink. It's a scorcher-and-a-half out there."
"Here!" One prodigious limb ceased its work, picking up a pitcher of what looked to be iced turquoise-colored Kool-Aid. Pouring a fresh glass, he held it out to her. "Have some juice!"
"Oh", Frankie accepted gratefully. "Thanks!"
Grin unwavering, Wilt went back to his business.
The girl took a gulp, smacking her lips. "Mmm! That hit the spot!"
"I squeezed it myself!" Though his lanky frame hid the table, Frankie could tell from the movement of his arms that he was indeed grinding objects in a lemon squeezer. She took another sip, letting the cool liquid do its work, coursing down her throat and easing her suffering.
"This is pretty tasty stuff, Wilt. What kind is it?"
He continued twisting and pulping without pause.
Frankie frowned, quaffing the tasty beverage once more in a contemplative manner. "You mean blueberry?"
"No!" Even with Wilt's enduring smile, he sounded very happy.
His easygoing companion peered around his legs, suddenly suspicious. She took a few steps closer to the culinary workbench. "Doesn't taste like grape. What kind of fruit did you u...?"
At that precise moment, Frankie Foster got her first unobstructed look at the contents of the table.
Her voice died away.
Wilt continued to work the juicing implement, leaning down on it with all his weight, each muscle in his superior athletic arm being brought to bear to mash out every last drop of liquid into the pitcher. The sound it made was as steady and nonthreatening as a heartbeat.
Squish. Squish. Squish. Squish.
For a full three minutes, no other sound was made.
Then Mac walked into the room.
"Hey Frankie! Hey Wilt! Have you guys seen Bloo?"
Neither of them answered. Wilt was busy with some kind of work, and Frankie was standing beside him, gaping at the towering imaginary friend with slack jaw and wide eyes. The little boy hesitated a moment, and then skipped over to join his compatriots.
"Coco said that Wilt asked Bloo to help him with something in the kitchen. We were going to have a scavenger hunt today and..."
He stopped, as something caught his attention.
"Oh hey! Juice!"
The tiny tike trotted over to the table. Standing on his tiptoes, eyes not even reaching over the edge, he managed to retrieve a tall cool glass of blue liquid.
"Perfect! It's so hot today, and I'm so thirsty, I thought I was going to..."
Mac tilted the decanter up. Before he could slake his thirst, however, a hand jerked down, clapping over the top of his cup.
"HEY!" the boy gasped, blinking up at Frankie in astonishment. "What gives?"
His after-school guardian did not reply. She only continued to stare wide-eyed at the red giant in their midst calmly and happily grinding out drinks.
"Frankie?" Mac was growing worried.
The bright auburn-haired elder slowly removed the glass from Mac's hands, and proceeded to place it and her own beverage back on the table. She then took the child's soft fingers in her own, encasing them securely and, he thought, a little tightly.
She spoke not a word. And for some reason, neither did he.
Frankie then walked slowly backwards towards the door, taking Mac with her.
When she reached the frame, the girl suddenly reached down, picked him up and ran from the room.
Bright red lights flashed. The crowd of residents from Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends parted, making a path out the front door. Down this line of shocked faces there came two burly, grim-featured men in white uniforms. Between them they were escorting the tallest imaginary companion anyone had ever seen. His torso was encased in a white strait-jacket, one sleeve stretched to the limit. That full-faced tooth-blazing grin they all knew now held a more sinister undertone.
"I told him!" the red basketball behemoth chortled, both eyes rolling madly, the good one and the busted one. "I told him! 'Bloo, you go too far,' I said! 'If you ever do something that stupid again, I swear in the name of Michael Jeffrey Jordan it'll be the last thing you ever do!' He thought I was joking, but I wasn't joking! That mean little jerk just pissed me off one time too many! Nobody's laughing, Bloo! Not even you! Not this time! Nobody's laughing, not now, not ever!"
The asylum attendants drew their charge over to a white van. They opened the back doors, hustled the freakishly-tall prisoner inside, and slammed the portals shut.
From his position twelve inches off the ground at the front of the crowd, one-eyed Jackie Khones spoke.
"Y'know, I always figured if any of us was going to crack up and kill Bloo, it would be Herriman."
Bloppy Pants the Timid Mouse-Cat glanced down at him. "Just what is 'exsanguination,' anyway?"
The green-bean daydream only shrugged.
The wailing white paddy-wagon peeled off. Well away from this sight, Frankie Foster was seated in the manor foyer, Mac propped up in her lap.
"You see, Mac," the redhead stammered. "Sometimes, when folks can't take things on their own anymore, they go to a special place."
"What kind of things?" the brown-haired tot stared up at her curiously. "And what kind of special place?"
"What kind?" Frankie hemmed and hawed, wracking her wits for an answer that didn't seem to be appearing. "You want to know what kind? Well, I'll tell you. It's sort of a... home for... people with... imaginary friends!"
"Really?" Mac seemed to grow very excited. "Does that mean that it's a place where Bloo and I can live together?"
"NO!" Frankie jumped, and Mac almost fell off her lap. She hastily grabbed him, securing his seat once more. "What I meant to say was..."
As she spoke the chore-horse happened to glance up. From around a corner, Coco, Eduardo, and Mister Herriman emerged. The big purple Latino beast-baby had a dripping shoebox reverently held in both hands. Coco was carrying a shovel in her mouth. Their rabbit overseer was dressed in a 19th century clergyman's outfit, complete with wig and solid gold cross.
"Señorita Frankie," Eduardo rumbled anxiously. "We tried to flush it like you said, but it no would go. Creo que no lo sabe como nadar. Señor Herriman says we put it in the garden next to the compost heap."
As the horned monster spoke, Mac's head turned in their direction. Immediately Frankie snatched him back and buried his face in her chest. With one hand pinning the flailing child, she frantically waved the imaginary burial detail out, teeth bared and eyes burning in furious agitation. The trio stumbled over themselves in their haste to flee from that concentrated rage.
Once they were out of sight, she released her hold, and Mac drew back with a gasp, face red and eyes bugging out of his head.
"Frankie!" her diminutive admirer panted. "W-what just...?"
She stared into his glazed eyes, brain striving desperately for some strategy out of this predicament that would prevent her from having to explain to this trusting wide-eyed soul the concepts of death, mania, and murder.
Upon observing the way he was looking at her, inspiration struck.
"Mac," the lovely young damsel smiled, patting his shoulders. "Have you been told about 'The Birds and the Bees' yet?"